Over the last month, the Minnesota Vikings have done just about as much as any team in the NFL in terms of keeping the band together. In all, the Vikings have made 17 signings. Six of them have been outside free agents and 11 have been their own players re-signing free-agent deals.
However, one name that has been conspicuously absent from that list is veteran linebacker Chad Greenway.
Greenway has been quoted over the last couple of weeks as saying he isn’t surprised that there hasn’t been any activity toward getting him signed for what would likely be a final NFL season if he returns, but, from the Vikings side of things, it would seem that delay isn’t so much to give Greenway a chance to see what the open market holds for him, but rather what the Vikings have in-house that could make Greenway less pressing for the 2016 team.
Heading into last season, Greenway was expected to be a part-time player for the Vikings, essentially coming off the field during obvious passing downs. However, due to injuries, the Vikings were glad they still had the wily veteran, who ended up playing about two-thirds of the defensive snaps and was a needed component piece when players were sidelined with injuries.
A year later, the depth chart looks markedly different. The only sure things are outside linebacker Anthony Barr and middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, who some still speculate may be at his best on the outside but led the team in tackles at middle linebacker and at no time did he appear as though he was overmatched by the transition to the NFL.
The most obvious question mark as it concerns Greenway is the signing of Emmanuel Lamur, whom head coach Mike Zimmer brought into Cincinnati and worked with for two seasons before coming to Minnesota. Even if Greenway does return, he would find himself in a battle with Lamur for a starting job and potentially Edmond Robinson, Brandon Watts, Travis Lewis and Audie Cole.
The wild card in whether Greenway returns or not will likely come in a little more than a month at the 2016 NFL draft. While linebacker doesn’t appear at first blush to be the most pressing need on the team, general manager Rick Spielman is always cognizant of drafting the player they have ranked highest on their board, regardless of position.
Because of Spielman’s unique way of stacking his draft board – assigning grades by position that can lead to, for example, a wide receiver, a defensive end, a linebacker or an offensive tackle with the same grade – the decision-making group headed by him and Zimmer could have multiple options to consider when making each selection, blending talent with need.
If there is an outside linebacker the Vikings really like in the first couple of rounds, it may well spell the end of the Greenway era in Minnesota, if not for his 10-year career at the age of 33.
It doesn’t bode well for Greenway that he has been on the free-agent market for three weeks – a time in which a couple hundred players have been either signed by new teams or re-signed by their old teams and there hasn’t been any mention of Greenway being brought in for visits or word getting out that someone is expressing an interest (perhaps that is simply a result of him preferring to stay in Minnesota over temporarily moving to another city).
For a 33-year old linebacker, that can’t be seen as good news.
Does Greenway still have some good football left in him? Given his level of play last year, it would seem he does, but the NFL is a young man’s game and coaches and draft personnel are always looking for the next big thing. That often comes at the expense of veterans, much in the same way guys like Jared Allen, Pat Williams, Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield were pushed out the door. Greenway spent a lot of time playing with those guys and, barring a change or a lack of drafting linebackers next month, Vikings fans may have seen the last of one of their all-time defensive greats in purple and gold.